Kapana vendor Katatura market Namibia

If you are what you eat, am I an ass?

by Michael on September 27, 2012

We finished a two-week road trip in the countryside of Namibia where we feasted on all types of game meat: oryx, impala, springbok, even wildebeest. So I was ready for some good old-fashioned beef when we returned to the capital city of Windhoek. Our friend Jim took us to the Soweto market in Katutura (a former apartheid-era village) to try some kapana, the famous Namibian street barbecue.

We had gone 12 months without opening our emergency supply of Cipro, a streak I didn’t want to break, but after watching Jim down strip after strip of beef mixed with a bit of fat we couldn’t resist.

men eating kapana in Katatura Namibia

Locals demonstrating the proper way to eat kapana.

The best way to eat kapana

There is a set way to eat kapana. Tell the vendor how much you want to spend and he pushes that amount of meat over to one side of the grill. Then pick it up with your hands, since it’s still over the open fire this part is a bit tricky, and dip it in a communal cardboard box filled with a salty spice blend. After eating a few pieces we picked up some freshly baked rolls from a bread vendor to make a sandwich out of ours.

Kapana roll Katatura market Namibia

Make sure to get a freshly baked roll.

The meat was delicious, fresh, tender and perfectly chargrilled, while the spice blend had the right amount of peppery kick. After he saw that we were enjoying ourselves, Jim decided to point out that, oops, it’s not beef after all but donkey meat we were chowing down on. Apparently it’s a local delicacy.

kapana donley meat namibia

The mystery meat.

I have to admit I couldn’t tell the difference, it still tasted pretty good. Later others told us it wasn’t donkey meat at all but that was hard to believe when the butcher’s tables a few feet away were laden with fresh donkey, which we could tell by the furry skin.

Kapana Katatura market butcher cutting boards

The butcher’s tables at the market display their years of use. To keep clean they are covered with fresh cardboard every day.

So maybe it was donkey, maybe it wasn’t. Sometimes when eating food in foreign lands, ignorance is indeed bliss. A lesson we learned when we tried kokorec, a sheep intestine sandwich in Istanbul. We loved it but didn’t know what it was until after we ate it.

Here’s a video of the kapana sizzling on the grill at the Katatura market:



What foods have you accidentally tried?


Tony September 27, 2012 at 10:31 am

In an open-air market in Shanghai, one of our colleagues veered off, only to return with deep-fried scorpions on a skewer (tasted like potato chips) and some Tsingtao beers. At a customer meeting, I was the senior visitor, so I had the pleasure of imbibing the snake bile in grain alcohol — also washed down with a local beer. I’m told the alcohol kills the bacteria, but keep that Cipro handy.

Larissa September 27, 2012 at 11:19 am

There seems to be a theme of washing down these strange foods with beer–maybe if they need to be “washed down” they’re not worth eating in the first place 😉

John D September 27, 2012 at 1:12 pm

Can I just respond to the Headline?

Michael September 27, 2012 at 3:02 pm

So who’s the wise ass now?

Carlos September 28, 2012 at 5:18 pm

I love BBQ, that stuff looks pretty good. Whatever it is.

Steven A January 12, 2013 at 4:18 pm

calamari in a Cuban eatery. I was sick for a week!

Michael April 13, 2013 at 8:36 am

If it’s grilled it’s usually pretty good.

Michael April 13, 2013 at 8:36 am

Larissa is allergic to calamari too and feels your pain.

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